Saturday, June 15, 2019

In a crowded Democratic field, Elizabeth Warren has won me over!

Senator Elizabeth Warren is surging in this race.
I'm a big fan of the Marvel Avengers series of flicks.  In 2018's Avengers Infinity War, in one key scene, the super hero character Doctor Strange (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) conducts some kind of massive mental examination of all possible future scenarios for defeating their genocidal enemy named Thanos.  He later tells Iron Man (played by Robert Downey Jr.) that he was able to envision 14 million possible scenarios and in only one of them do they beat their enemy.  Of course, if you've seen the final Avengers Endgame film this year, you know how that turned out.

I think of that scene when contemplating the ongoing race for the next Democratic presidential candidate.   Like most progressive political junkies, I've been sifting through the various scenarios presented by the now 23 candidates on the crowded stage for the right choice to take on and defeat the grotesque Donald Trump in 2020.

I do believe that the chances are much better than 14,000,000 to 1.  But I worry, like most, that settling on one safe candidate or relying too heavily on 2016 assumptions repeating themselves, could end up being a gigantic mistake.  The horrific thought of picturing Trump being re-elected in 2020 sends chills down my spine, as I'm sure it does all good people.  That sleazy, lying criminal must be removed from the White House next year (if not sooner.)  The key is figuring out which Democratic candidate is the one to do it.

Here are some factors that I believe to be true which underpin my current thinking:
  • Trump won in 2016 on a populist message that won over working class voters in rust belt states typically won by Democrats by campaigning to be on their side.   He was seen as an outsider and a change candidate who would shake things up in Washington. 
  • 2016 was not some aberration.  2016 was a repudiation of the politics as usual in Washington, ie. the Washington establishment represented by the Clintons, the Bushes, even Barack Obama, and in many ways, Joe Biden.  
  • The fact that Trump emerged victorious, despite his woeful inadequacies for the office well-known even by his supporters at the time, is proof of a much larger problem: Americans are tired of the status quo.  Ignoring this is foolhardy. 
  • Yes, Trump has let down many voters who supported him who now realize he was lying when he promised to bring back manufacturing jobs, or to protect Medicare. Instead, he's cut taxes for the top 1% while they continue to struggle.  This makes him vulnerable.
  • But Trump now has the power of incumbency when the economy is doing very well, which makes defeating him quite difficult. 
  • Trump's pathetic antics and major personality flaws have galvanized his opponents against him.  Despite this, Trump's approval ratings remain around 40%, thus he's been able to mostly maintain his base, but has alienated the other 60% including Independents.  While his base is motivated to support him again, the Democratic base is equally determined to turn out and stop him in 2020.  

In the Democratic field, I have been hoping that some awesome change candidate would emerge.  At first, it seemed that all of them, while possessing great strengths, also were dangerously flawed (dangerous only in that I could see those flaws one day undermining their campaigns and helping to re-elect the man-child.)

Below is a list that details how my mind has evolved on this since last fall: 
  • I first looked at Beto O'Rourke last fall as a dream candidate.  His Senate run against Ted Cruz was inspiring.  Yet, Beto's incoherent messaging since launching his presidential run has left me confused.  By losing the Senate race and no longer holding an elected office, Beto only has the power of his personality to sell in this race.  While charming, it's not good enough.  His tendency to provide long-winded answers to simple questions isn't helping.  Beto's going nowhere in this race.  
  • Kamala Harris impressed me back in December when it first became clear she has "the goods" when it comes to the gravitas needed for this race.  But since then, we've been reminded of some of her less than progressive accomplishments in her previous role as Attorney-General of California.  Plus, she hasn't really provided a compelling narrative surrounding her current candidacy and her policies are unsurprising, uninspiring and all over the map.  She's stuck in single digits in the polls. 
  • I've always loved Elizabeth Warren.  Her long-established reputation as a fighter for ordinary people against the excesses of Wall Street preceded her current run.  She was already well-defined before this race.  Yet, I worried about sexism in America.  Was now the time to have another female candidate when the last one had such a difficult time and eventually lost to Donald Trump?  That, plus Warren's handling of her DNA Indigenous heritage test made it seem her political smarts weren't quite as refined as needed.  Last December, I wrote Warren off.  But now I've changed my mind about her (more about that below.) 
  • Pete Buttigieg's surge earlier this year was fascinating to watch.  No doubt, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana and combat veteran has made quite the splash among the mainstream media and white, urban Democrats.  His speaking skills are amazing, of course.  But to date, he too suffers from a lack of a clear galvanizing message.  His open homosexuality would make his presidency historic.  I'd like to think that the right gay candidate could win the White House in 2020 as the right black candidate did in 2008.  But so far, I just can't really see it happening.  His vagueness on most policy issues is now working against him.  It's clear, in such a crowded field, he's not doing quite enough to go much higher than where he is now (between 5 and 10% in the polls.) 
  • Tulsi Gabbard's message is awesome but I just can't see her pulling up enough in this race to compete effectively.
  • Montana Governor Steve Bullock also has excellent experience and positions on issues, but he started this race too late and is now even shut out of the first debates happening later this month. 
  • The other candidates in the race are mostly non-starters for me: Cory Booker is too tied to Wall Street and is pretty uninspiring.  Kirsten Gillibrand was centrist until she pivoted left just in time for this race; she too is not inspiring.  Amy Klobuchar is boring and wants the Democrats to remain much like Biden: centrist and milquetoast.  The rest just aren't in the game.

I had hoped that Joe Biden wouldn't run due to his milquetoast approach to everything, not to mention his major mistakes in the past.  The list is too long: the 1994 Crime bill, voting for the Iraq war, voting against ordinary people in favour of the big banks on bankruptcy law, demeaning questioning of Anita Hill in the early 1990s and only apologizing for it in 2019, etc. etc.

Joe Biden is yesterday's man.  It's true that Washington Democratic insiders who just want to go back to the eras of Clinton and Obama are excited about him, but I'm not sure anyone else truly is.  Were Biden to become the candidate, it would deflate and discourage huge portions of the Democratic electorate, particularly the progressive side looking for major change in Washington.  Biden could overcome some of that lack of excitement by nominating a progressive Vice-Presidential candidate to run alongside him.  But Biden leading a clunky, uninspiring ticket against Donald Trump in 2020 fills me with fear that election day will produce a re-elected and truly dangerous Donald Trump for another four years.

For me, Biden represents nothing that America truly needs right now besides not being Trump.  As with Clinton in 2016, that simply won't be enough to stop Trump.

So back in February, I deduced that perhaps the best candidate for the job would be Bernie Sanders.  He had made such a strong impression in 2016 and inspired so many devoted progressives.  His message taking on the 1%, promoting Medicare for All, taking money out of politics, free tuition for public universities, all spoke to me.  His ability, as a white man, to connect with white working class audiences, such as in the rust belt states that Clinton lost to Trump, seemed to make him a winner.  I thought that now was the time for Sanders to emerge as the Democratic presidential candidate.  So I let that be known on some private social media accounts.  

The torrent of resistance and hatred against Sanders I received back was overwhelming.  It was clear Sanders remains as divisive as perhaps Trump is on the other side.

Thus, I've been questioning that support for Sanders big time.  Sanders' messaging this time isn't really all that much different than in 2016.  He remains pretty much exactly the same as he was then, except now he's pushing 80.  He does talk rather superficially a bit more about his personal family history.  But overall, the focus has been a constant repetition of working class outrage, heavy on grievance, not so detailed on the solutions.   Sanders' support doesn't seem to be growing either. 

Sanders would also struggle against a full-on attack from not just Donald Trump but also the top 1% establishment spending everything they could to undermine Sanders' campaign.  His self-described "socialism" would be a target on the back of his head.  I haven't heard anything close to enough from Sanders to counter the tsunami of hate, confusion and misinformation that's coming his way.  His communication skills are simply not strong enough. 

I have huge fears now that Sanders wouldn't be able to unite the Democratic Party around him.  Sanders might even inspire some centrist independent to run to try to stop him.   Whereas Biden might deflate progressive voters, Sanders might deflate centrists who will be less inclined to mark an 'X' next to Sanders' name in November 2020.  If it's between a tax-and-spend socialist named Sanders versus the status quo under Trump, I can see Trump actually pulling it off.

Ugh.  So they all have their flaws.

Yet the last few weeks have proven crucial to Elizabeth Warren:
  • Her steady release of detailed policies has given her candidacy additional gravitas and credibility.  
  • Her amazing retail skills are already reaching new heights.  Her town hall events have shown an ability to connect, particularly with suburban women that is so refreshing and undeniably impressive.
  • Unlike Sanders who inspires few outside of far left audiences with his dour stories of economic injustice, Warren's stories about struggling to achieve her dream of becoming a teacher, or how she was lucky to have an Aunt Bee to help her with child care, are emotional and inspiring
  • She's feisty.  
  • She's energetic.  
  • She's very likeable.  
  • She's principled.  
  • She is emerging in this race as the best candidate, possessing both the retail smarts to connect with ordinary people who want a champion to fight for them, as well as the policy credibility to appeal to voters who want real change.  She might even be the person of the moment, in 2019 and in 2020.

But what about Pocahontas?  With some great messaging, Warren can leave that minor controversy behind in the eyes of all reasonable people.  If Trump keeps calling her that long after the American people have accepted Warren's apology for it, it'll just make him seem even more immature and trite.  Of course, by comparison, Trump too has his major mistakes and flaws to contend with.  I'd much rather worry about Warren's handling of this one issue than worry about Joe Biden's various mistakes in his past including plagiarism.    

But Warren's a woman in a sexist country?  True.  Let's not forget that Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote in that "sexist" country in 2016 by almost 3,000,000 votes.  It was a unique failure in three key states that undermined her.  Clinton was also hopelessly flawed and uninspiring with so much baggage.  Yet despite that, she won the most votes.

It's easy to see Elizabeth Warren inspiring and galvanizing turnout in places where Clinton failed.  Certainly, in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and perhaps many more places. Warren is also 100% more likeable than Hillary Clinton could ever be. 

Warren's words also inspire: "What I've learned is that real change is very, very hard. But I've also learned that change is possible - if you fight for it."

When I've over-thought issues like this, suppressing my own instincts and instead tried to appease other people, I've fallen flat on my face.

I've learned the hard way that the best way forward is to fight for what you want.  Don't compromise and capitulate.  Stick to your own instincts and vote with your principles.  You're never going to get what you want if you don't vote for it. 

Supporting Biden because he's safe and currently considered the best bet for beating Trump reminds me of John Kerry in 2004 against George Bush Jr.   It would be the worst kind of capitulation.  Biden is not what America needs right now.

While his policies are great, Sanders personally isn't the answer, it seems, anymore.  I just can't see that happening.   

No, the answer to Donald Trump is Elizabeth Warren, a powerful, progressive woman who's got well-thought out plans for what ails that country and a new, vibrant ability to connect with ordinary people.  

I can't think of a better way for Trump's presidency to end than with Elizabeth Warren taking office after him in 2021.  

She's got the progressive credentials to inspire the left.  She's still reasonable on many issues that she won't scare off too many if any centrists, or even establishment types who can't stand Trump.

She's on her way up in this race.  I predict she'll soon overtake Bernie Sanders as the best bet to not only stop Biden, but also Trump in 2020.

Think of it: President Elizabeth Warren.  Now that's something to get truly inspired about. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Disappointing annual meeting sadly leaves little hope for the Ontario Liberal Party

Wow what a terrible waste of my time and money.  I paid $450.00 to attend the Ontario Liberal Party's Annual General Meeting this past weekend to help change it.  I had hoped that activists in the party would understand that the best way for a nearly extinct party to survive is to open itself up to tens of thousands of new members, members who do more than receive fundraising emails and thankless calls to knock on doors, but also get a full say in who becomes the party's leader.

That's how movements are supposed to work.  Engage, inspire and earn the trust of followers.

But after this weekend, it's clear the Ontario Liberal Party is no movement.   It's more like a corrupt corporation that sees membership as a transaction and revenue generator.

But first the good things from this weekend.  It was great fun to see so many old friends I haven't seen in quite a while and catch up.  Those lovely conversations will be the highlight from the weekend for me.

Unfortunately, those good moments have been overpowered in my mind by the bad.

The party had a chance to modernize and open up its final leadership choice to all members.  The constitutional amendment would've created an equally weighted One Member One Vote system that would've given all ridings an equal say in the final result.  

The change had majority support among convention delegates, garnering 58% support.  But as with all constitutional issues, a higher threshold of 66.67% was in force that prevented the change from happening.  

I am pleased with the fact that a majority of party activists who spent considerable money and time to attend this past weekend showed a preference for a more open and democratic party.  But alas, it's the 42% who ruined it for the rest of the folks for reasons which were simply invalid, in my opinion.

One woman sitting near me who voted against change claimed the party wouldn't have enough time or resources to organize a new open system for leadership.  Yet, she ignored the fact that instead holding a big convention staffed by hundreds would be just as cumbersome on the party.  "I support the concept, just not now for this leadership," was a refrain I heard.

"I like doing the right thing.  But let's delay doing it and instead keep on doing the wrong thing because it's more convenient."

That would be the sentiment that underlies the amoral core at the heart of too many Ontario Liberals, and Liberals in general.

"You don't want to give the chance for the crazies to take over," was another sentiment I sensed from opponents of change.  It's better to let 2,000 insiders who can be easily controlled and corralled toward a "consensus" candidate (a consensus no doubt cooked up by the elite insiders around each losing candidate in the backrooms) at a leadership convention decide the direction of the party.    

When someone who ought to know better looked at me in horror yesterday when he saw me wearing a One Member One Vote t-shirt, it reinforced for me why he could've been so pleased with remaining a Liberal party staffer even in the dying days of the Wynne government, when any pretense of principle or moral authority had long gone out the window.   

This weekend I even caught a glimpse of a 2003 war room insider who I later learned went on to form his own clean energy company, which lo and behold, got a high-paid contract from the Liberal government a few years later under its Clean Energy policy.  This weekend, he too was of course bad-mouthing the democratic modernization of the leadership process to keep it controlled by insiders like him.  

Power, being insiders, attaching oneself to the establishment elite, occasionally rubbing shoulders with them at conventions for which they paid huge amounts of money to attend without blinking an eye, perhaps even getting some corrupt contract out of it that lines your pockets, that's what being a Liberal is all about, at least for the 42% who ruined it this weekend for the majority.

Every single motion to modernize the party in any meaningful way was defeated this weekend.  

I do admire the lovely activists, particularly those who worked so hard to promote the OMOV option.  Most will continue to stay active and hope for change another year or decade from now.  

But I've always been an all-or-nothing guy.   If corruption rules the day in your organization, I can't just tolerate your organization for the bits of good it does.  The corruption disturbs me too much.  It's why I left the Catholic Church, for example.  This whole weekend triggered some old anxieties of mine which were responsible for my original decision to mostly leave partisan politics last decade.

I'm not sure I want to be active in a party where 42% of people could see no major value even now in opening up the party into a movement that engages and empowers its members to decide the leader.

"Justice later, not now," is not a credo I can respect or live by.  The fact that this is the last party in Canada that can't even understand that enough to change its rules speaks volumes.

The Ontario Liberal Party did some good in government, but also a lot of atrocious, deeply incompetent things.  They deserved the massive defeat they received in 2018.  Now they're the third party without status in the legislature.

After what I saw this weekend, perhaps they need to stay there.  My assumption after the NDP's inability to stop Doug Ford's PCs in 2018 was that resuscitating the Ontario Liberals would be the best way to get the Conservatives out of office one day.  

Not so sure now.  After this weekend, I don't think the Ontario Liberals are even capable of change.  Like their federal cousins who got rescued by Justin Trudeau and restored to power despite doing nothing to truly change, we're seeing the downsides of just putting the Liberals back in there to beat the Conservatives.

On the leadership front, things are even bleaker for the Ontario Liberal Party.  

Steven Del Duca would be a disaster as a leader.  The man is anti-charismatic and robotic in appearance.  He looks like the kind of sleazy, backroom, amoral Liberal of your worst nightmares.  He's talking about bringing the Liberals back to the center-right.  Presumably that means cozying up again with powerful interests like developers in the 905 sort of like Doug Ford is doing right now. 

The fact that Del Duca's now considered the "presumed frontrunner" means the Ontario Liberal Party has no future.

Sadly, the other major candidate in the race so far, Michael Coteau, isn't much better.  Yes, he's a mildly charismatic man who managed, unlike Del Duca, to keep his seat in 2018.  But his speaking style is as flat and uninspiring as a seal.  Plus he flip flopped this weekend on the One Member One Vote issue, first openly opposing it and then voting for it yesterday morning.  (At least the more cunning Del Duca, who was largely invisible this weekend, had the sense to lie and not let his disgust with democracy actually be communicated to the masses.)

****UPDATE #2 - Someone from Coteau's campaign claimed shortly after publishing this post that he never took a public position on OMOV prior to the AGM.  I have since re-located the CBC story here in which Coteau in fact did say he favoured sticking with a "delegated convention (that) allows for people who become supporters of the party at no cost to vote in delegate selection meetings."  The same CBC story says Coteau claims the "delegated convention protects against what he calls "special interests" taking over the leadership vote."

So clearly Coteau did flip flop on this very important issue, no doubt reading the room correctly before it voted 58% in favour of change.  It's not a great sign for people who want more integrity and genuine progressive credentials in the next leader after our last one did so much of her own flip flopping.   

I also wanted to see a side of Coteau this weekend that would show me that he's got some nice grassroots and interpersonal skills.  If he can make some magic one-on-one, maybe there's hope.  But sadly, when I attended his hospitality suite on Friday night, I saw a guy not ready for prime time.  I shook his hand, but he otherwise totally ignored me, despite multiple opportunities to engage with me.   If you can't even have a friendly 30 second conversation with a stranger wearing a delegate badge who's shown up in your own hospitality suite, your political skills are wanting. 

Because of his flip flop on OMOV, as well as his lack of political/social skills, my hopes that Coteau will ever have much ability to lead the Ontario Liberals back into contention faded this weekend.  

There is of course one more minor candidate, the energetic Alvin Tedjo, a defeated 2018 candidate from Oakville-Burlington North.  He's likeable and telegenic, but his resume is as thin as mine.  His background is in communications so perhaps he plans a major message that might inspire.  He did at least consistently support OMOV publicly so that appeals to me. 

As Del Duca and Coteau are so lousy, it does leave an opening for Tedjo.  Or anyone else with a bit of talent and ambition to work hard and bring this party back. 

Because this party desperately needs it. 

Those Ontarians looking for a progressive alternative to the Ford government might have to re-focus on the NDP and the Greens as more serious options for now until the Ontario Liberal Party learns how to fix itself.